James A. Michener

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Discuss the relations between the Native Americans and white settlers in Chesapeake and Centennial.

Discuss the conflict between progress and the environment in James Michener’s novels.

Most of Michener’s major characters are men. Discuss Michener’s female characters in terms of their “feminism.”

What accounts for the decline of Michener’s important families?

Discuss Michener’s depiction of Quakers and the Quaker religion in Chesapeake.

Other literary forms

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Although James A. Michener (MIHCH-nuhr) considered himself primarily a novelist, he also was an accomplished short-story writer, essayist, art historian, and editor. Major themes in his nonfiction are travel and American politics. The Voice of Asia (1951) is also in the political tradition. The Floating World (1954) is a philosophical essay on Japanese art, a theme he treats in four other works, most notably in Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern (1959).


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In the early 1950’s, James A. Michener was heralded as the new voice in American fiction. Still basking in the considerable praise that followed his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, and the Pulitzer Prize that accompanied it, he shared the reflected glow of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical adaptation, South Pacific (1949). Although critics objected to the romantic cast of his early novels, they also found much to praise. Critical reaction to his later novels has also been mixed: While some consider them brilliant for their sweeping panoramic scope, others have condemned the novels for their mass of information, undeveloped characters, and lack of depth. Despite the doubts of literary critics as to the merits of Michener’s novels, an eager public has responded to them enthusiastically.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Michener’s writing earned for him a number of honorary degrees and awards, including the appointment to several government committees. His work on two of these committees—the Centennial Commission and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Advisory Council—contributed to research for his fiction. In 1977, President Gerald R. Ford awarded Michener the Medal of Honor, America’s highest civilian award.


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Day, A. Grove. James A. Michener. 2d ed. New York: Twayne, 1977. Written from the point of view of one who knew and worked with Michener. Its excellent bibliography is limited, naturally, to materials published before 1977.

Groseclose, Karen, and David A. Groseclose. James A. Michener: A Bibliography. Austin, Tex.: State House Press, 1996. A detailed chronology of Michener’s life, including the most important events, his publications, honors, awards, and his contributions to society, education, and politics. Contains a comprehensive bibliography about Michener and presents an informative synopsis of each of Michener’s novels, as well as a compilation of Michener’s works.

Hayes, John P. James A. Michener. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1987. A helpful biography.

May, Stephen J. Michener: A Writer’s Journey. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005. Michener’s own writing is used to paint a portrait of him as a journalist and popular writer who never achieved the literary acclaim that he craved. Includes 19 black and white photos.

Michener, James A. The World Is My Home. New York: Random House, 1992. A memoir of Michener’s life and writing.

Roberts, F. X., and C. D. Rhine, comps. James A. Michener: A Checklist of His Works. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. As part of the series on Bibliographies and Indexes in American Literature, Roberts and Rhine have compiled a comprehensive list of Michener’s writings. Excellent reference work that contains a selected, annotated bibliography.

Severson, Marilyn S. James A. Michener. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Severson’s book, part of the series of Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers, presents a complete overview of Michener’s life, including his writing style, themes, ideas, and concerns. Also provides an excellent, detailed analysis of nine of Michener’s forty-eight books. Includes a partial bibliography of works by Michener, of information and criticism about Michener, and of reviews of some of Michener’s books.

Shaddinger, Anne E. The Micheners in America. Rutland, Vt.: Charles Tuttle, 1958. Information on Michener’s parentage.

Silverman, Herman. Michener and Me: A Memoir. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1999. Silverman, who first met Michener before the latter’s literary success, recounts his memories of over fifty years of friendship.

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Critical Essays